Day 4's itinerary:
Jigokudani Hell Valley --> Ainu Village --> Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園) --> Asahikawa Ramen Village (旭川ラーメン村)
Once we were belly-full from lunch, we were ushered back onto the tour bus for the long trip out to Asahiyama Zoo. In fact, the journey was so long, by the time we arrived, we had only about an hour before the zoo closed. We had to hurry, so I forgot all about snapping a picture of the zoo!
It is only after writing this blog, that I realise I need to be more mindful about documenting with my camera. Next time I shall endeavour to snap a gazillion photos of everything.
The Asahiyama Zoo is a popular zoo in Hokkaido with an impressive history to boot. The Asahiyama Zoo was initially on the brink of being closed as visitor numbers were dismal and declining. However, in a never-say-die spirit, the zoo went on a process of re-inventing itself and it has now displaced Ramen and skiing as Asahikawa's primary attraction.
The Asahiyama Zoo is now home to more than 700 animals of over 120 different species. It is also the first facility in Japan to have succeeded in the natural breeding in captivity of animals that live in cold regions.
The popularity of the zoo also revolves around its concept of close proximity to their animals. The zoo had many enclosures which allow visitors to observe the animals up close and personal, and from various angles.
To get an idea of just how close you can get to the animals, check out my photos below. These were all taken without having to zoom at all!
I suspect the polar bear exhibit is one of the zoo's main attractions as this was the first one that our tour guide Ms Reikko insisted on bringing us to. In fact, she was quite adamant that we must head to the polar bear enclosure.
Once there though, the entire tour group oohed and ahh-ed at the 2 polar bears there. We also climbed up some mini flights of stairs to get to glass dome-like structures that put us right below or next to the bears! Quite an amazing feeling staring up at the under-belly of these huge white bears!
At another point of the enclosure, we were so close to the bear, (if I was a silly twit) I could have stuck my hand in to stroke its fur! Well, obviously my fingers stayed on the safe side of the mesh fence.
Once we were done with the polar bear enclosure, we were left to roam the zoo on our own. My parents and I then headed off to check out the penguins (which happened to be very near the toilets near the polar bear enclosure).
Unfortunately, the penguin pool was closed to visitors by the time we got there. A pity since I had read that there was an underwater glass tunnel through the pool that allows visitors to watch the penguins underwater. Nevertheless, my parents and I had a few good laughs seeing the penguins in their external enclosure. They simply looked too adorable waddling up and down.
In fact the next picture is one of my favourite photos from the entire trip.
Yup. Its really up close and personal!
During the colder months, there is also a Penguin Parade! To alleviate the lack of exercise, the zoo has a walking route for these penguins! Visitors can actually wait along the route to see these penguins walking in a group! I can just imagine how kawaii!
I really think the zoo's concept of up-close and personal is simply brilliant.
Or in the case of the tiger, perhaps a little too close for comfort. Check out that stare!
In the midst of hurrying around the zoo, we heard loud howls and realised that we were near the wolves' enclosure. It's the first time I've heard a pack of wolves howling, and I have to say, I'm really glad that we were in a zoo. City girl here would have freaked out if I was stuck in a forest and hearing those howls.
Some of the other animals in the zoo included deers, monkeys, seals, a collection of birds, etc. I couldn't resist snapping a picture of the eagle. I just thought it looked like it belonged in Harry Potter's world instead.
My parents and I were quite impressed with the zoo, despite us zooming around as many enclosures as we could manage within that short hour. While I still think our Singapore Zoological Garden is the best zoo ever, the Asahiyama Zoo definitely impresses with its proximity concept. It's really no wonder why it attracts so many visitors now.
The Asahiyama Zoo is definitely one place that I would like to come back to again. In fact, I'm thinking of a winter trip, just so I can see the Penguin Parade! The penguins really stole my heart.
Once we were done with the Asahiyama Zoo, we then proceeded to the Asahikawa Ramen Village. Initially, the group was told that it was only a photo stop. Ramen has a spot on my list of favourite foods. So to tell me that I've come all the way to the Ramen Village and NOT have ramen?! I wasn't just disappointed. I was silently boiling mad.
Thankfully, the Asahikawa Ramen Village was more than just a photo-stop. *phew*
Ok. I admit. This time round, I was so upset with the initial "photo stop" that I did not bother to take my camera out to get a shot of the entire Ramen Village. Whatever photos I had from this portion of the itinerary, were taken only after I was happily seated in one of the ramen shops.
The Asahikawa Ramen Villages comprises of 8 famous ramen shops, a small gift shop and a ramen shrine. Initially, I was still wondering which one of the 8 shops to go to, but that happy problem was taken off my hands when our tour guide ushered us straight into one of my favourite:
Can you guess which famous ramen shop is this?
Yup. None other than Santouka!
Santouka is famous for its flavourful pork broth. My parents and I ordered the black pork shoyu (soy-based) ramen in mini bowls. And a plate of pan-fried gyozas to share. Super yummy. It was my parents' first experience with Santouka and they were singing praises at the end of their meal. In fact, my mummy loved it so much, she has been pestering me to bring her to the Singapore branch!
The meal marked the end of Day 4. With bellies full of delicious ramen and broth, my parents and I slept through the bus journey to our hotel.
Thoughts from Day 4:
The Ainu Village was the only forgettable portion of the itinerary for Day 4. However, I do acknowledge that we were only there for a cultural show and that explains mostly why it was forgettable in a day where we were impressed with other sights.
The Jigokudani or "Hell Valley" is a must-visit in my opinion, especially if you're the kind who enjoys landscapes. Sensitive noses, please be prepared for the sulphur stink though. Otherwise, I would recommend that you take some time to enjoy the walking trails. I myself would like to return to catch the pool, geysers and even try for the natural foot-bath.
The Asahiyama Zoo is the next highlight for the day. While the grounds are not particularly huge, you can easily spend a few hours having fun at the various enclosures. Animal/zoo-lovers will definitely appreciate the proximity to the animals. I think kids would have a great time too. The Asahiyama Zoo also operates a special zoo train during certain seasons. You might want to check it out if you are planning a trip there.
Ramen lovers would probably get a high at the Asahikawa Ramen Village. If you're not sure which ramen shop you should patronise, fret not! All the ramen shops here have mini bowls on their menu, and they are ok if you were to share your mini bowl even. Ramen-shop hopping is apparently common. However, all the 8 ramen shops have outlets all over Hokkaido. So if you can get your ramen fix elsewhere, you can save on making this trip especially since the Asahikawa Ramen Village can be quite inaccessible.
In fact, both the Asahiyama Zoo and the Asahikawa Ramen Village are quite out of the way. The zoo can still be reached by bus or train but the best way to get to the ramen village would be to drive or take a cab. If you intend to get to either destination, please do plan your schedule so as to account for the travelling time.
Address: Higashi Asahikawacho Kuranuma, Asahikawa 078-8205, Hokkaido
DID: +81 166--36-1104
Operating Hours: 9:30 am to 5:15 pm (entry until 4pm) in late April to mid October,
9:30 am to 4:30 pm (entry until 4 pm) in mid October to early November,
and 10:30 am to 3:30 pm (entry until 3 pm) in mid November to early April.
Closed on 30 December to 1 January.
Closed also on a few days between the summer and winter seasons. Please check before proceeding.
Entrance fee: 820 yen
Asahiyama Zoo Train
Asahikawa Ramen Village
Address: 11-4 Nagayama, Asahikawa 079-8421, Hokkaido
Local address: 〒079-8421 北海道旭川市永山11条4丁目119-48
DID: +81 166-48-2153
Operating hours: Generally 11 am to 9 pm
Closed on 1 January, with occasional closures by individual ramen shops